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How to train your youth ministry volunteers (part 3)

We’re discussing how to make a youth ministry training plan and in two previous posts have discussed how to define what volunteers need to know and how to assess what volunteers know already. Today we’ll be discussing the most practical part: how to do the actual youth ministry training.

You know what you want your youth ministry volunteers to know, you have made a good assessment of what they already know and thus you know what you need to teach them. The next step then is to complete your youth ministry training plan by deciding how you will teach your volunteers what’s on the ‘to teach list’.

Keep in mind that the primary task of training your volunteers is to equip them and to motivate them to do their task better. Training is not just a matter of getting a message across or dumping information. You want your training to be practical, to be inspiring and motivating.

That means you have to put time into preparing your training. It’s an investment that will pay off, because well-trained, well-equipped and motivated volunteers are what every youth ministry needs to ‘succeed’. So for each of the items you need to teach them, now ask yourself this question:

How can we teach them this so that they are both equipped and inspired?

Let’s start with some key principles to theoretical training and we’ll discuss teaching practical skills tomorrow. When you have a good idea of what knowledge you need to teach you volunteers, you’ll need to come up with the best way to do this. Here are 7 key principles for teaching your youth ministry volunteers:

1. Anchor to what they know

Research has shown that people remember knew information far better when you anchor it to something they know already. With every new topic you want to teach about, start with what they know already, preferably something they have observed.

If you want to teach you volunteers about adolescent psychology for instance, start with asking for their observations.  What do they see in their students? Why do they think young people behave a certain way, for instance impulsive or emotional? Build from there and link the new information to what they know already.

2. Make it practical

Even when teaching theoretical knowledge, always answer the unasked question: so what? Make sure you always link what you’re teaching to the day-to-day realities of their role in youth ministry. They need to know how they should apply what you’re teaching them. That requires good preparation on your part when you teach, for instance to come up with good examples.

Let’s say you want to teach some basics of pastoral care. Start by asking what kind of problems students face nowadays (this is what they know already). Now ask how they usually bring this up. This is your segue into teaching how to have a pastoral conversation with a student. Close off by linking back to a pastoral topic mentioned by your volunteers and mention how what you just explained could help them understand the student and the struggle he or she is facing better.

3. Use different teaching styles

Your volunteers are all different in their learning styles. Not all of them will appreciate a ‘frontal’ teaching style where they just sit and listen. Some will love discussions, others will be more into practical hands-on workshops. To engage all of your volunteers in your training program, use different learning styles.

4. Don’t do it all yourself

It’s easiest and probably also cheapest to do all training yourself, but for your volunteers it can be very good to hear other voices. We don’t always realize it, but we all have our specific teaching style, method and even humor. That won’t always speak to everyone on our team, so your team could benefit from hearing someone else every now and then. They bring fresh voices and perspectives into the mix.

5. Know when to stop

Your volunteers do not need to become youth ministry experts. Make sure you know when to stop, what level of information is still valuable to them. They are not at your ‘level’, for instance certain theological discoveries may excite you immensely, but will have no meaning to them at all. Keep in mind that youth ministry training is supposed to motivate them, not bore them or discourage them.

6. Make it communal

A key element of good training is that it creates unity at the same time. A way to do that is to always start a training session with the ‘why’. Use stories from your youth ministry to remind your volunteers why you are doing this. Show them the bigger picture. Then challenge them to learn together, grow together and serve together. Then have a meal.

Seriously, whenever possible incorporate eating together in your training. It’s a nice break, but more important than that: it creates an opportunity for relationship building, for caring for each other, for having fun. It’s a tough job sometimes, volunteering in youth ministry, so offer some relaxation as well.

7. Use different methods

A combination of different methods will help your volunteers to constantly learn. One training day a year won’t do that. So combine different approaches in your youth ministry training plan. Here are some ideas:

  • Start the season with a full training day to set the tone. In my experience teaching the mission and vision of your youth ministry is a key element here.
  • Incorporate some training into each meeting or session so they’ll come to understand that constant learning is part of being a volunteer. I know that meetings often have full agendas, but it will pay off to spend some time teaching, even if it’s only 15 minutes.
  • Set up a way of communicating written training to them, for instance via email, a Facebook page or group, Evernote, Twitter or something else. Key is that you have a way to send them articles, posts and info that you think is valuable to them. Obviously, this in itself is a very passive teaching method. To make sure they ‘get the message’ from this type of training, refer to it in meetings, take time to talk about it, reflect on it together in coaching, etc.
  • Start an (online) book club and read good youth ministry related books together. Encourage your leaders to read! Everyone can read the book when it suits them and discuss it either online or ‘real life’.
  • There are podcasts you could send to your volunteers to listen to. Again, it’s probably wise to offer some kind of incentive to actually listen to them.
  • There are many teaching curricula available, some with DVDs and all. I’ve never used these myself (I’m Dutch remember – these are all English and not Dutch subtitled, aside from big cultural differences) so I can’t say much about them, other than that I’d advise you to always watch them yourself first. Make a careful consideration if these really meet your training needs.
  • Go to a training day or conference together. It’s great to have a shared learning experience and be inspired as a group by something new.

In upcoming posts we’ll discuss how to teach practical skills to your youth ministry volunteers, how to motivate your volunteers for training in the first place and what a good training session could look like. If you have any other issues you’d like to see tackled, let me know in the comments!

[Photo credit: Neil Cummings, Flickr, Creative Commons]
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0 thoughts on “How to train your youth ministry volunteers (part 3)

  1. […] jQuery("#errors*").hide(); window.location= data.themeInternalUrl; } }); } http://www.youthleadersacademy.com – Today, 1:33 […]

  2. Great Stuff! I’m going to pass this along to our team. It always seems to be an uphill battle to train leaders well. Balancing training time with time they’re spending with students is a delicate dance.

    Particularly like the “Make it Communal” point. Not only do we want leaders to be trained, we want them to be connected to each other and feel served by us.

    Always asking the question, “do our leaders feel used or served?” is important.

    Thank you for sharing some great principles.

    1. Thanks for stopping by David. Your observation about balancing volunteer’s time is a very good one, I’ll discuss this further in an upcoming post. We can’t over-ask them, but at the same time we know we need to train them. Finding that balance can be tricky. Making training communal is very important, but it doesn’t just happen. It means prepping this intentionally and taking the time to come up with elements for the training that make it communal. I love that question: are leaders feeling used or served, I think that’s a great one to ask yourself when you prep a training…will the attendants feel served or used afterwards…

  3. […] discussed defining what your volunteers need to know, how to assess what they know already and how to teach both theoretical and practical skills. Lastly, we’ve looked at how to motivate your volunteers for youth ministry […]

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